Both public good and private good


Eric W. Fulcomer, PhD President-Elect

I realize that I have big shoes to fill, as I follow one of the longest serving state association presidents in the country. Dr. Rolf Wegenke served WAICU and its member institutions for three decades. I was able to be with him recently at a national gathering of state association leaders where he was recognized for his long tenure. The tributes offered for Dr. Wegenke highlighted the big impact he has made on the independent college sector in Wisconsin and, through his mentorship of others, the wider independent college sector.

I come to WAICU after spending my entire adult life working in independent higher education. I also have served as an elected official in small town government, first as a member of the council, then as Council President and Mayor. The position at WAICU combines my experience in elected office and interest in politics with my nearly three decades of experience in higher education administration. I am excited about getting started and positively impacting the lives of the more than 53,000 students who attend WAICU institutions.

A topic that has held my interest throughout my career has been human capital theory and the related question as to whether higher education is a public or private good. In simple terms, education as a public good refers to the benefits that an educated population brings to society at large. Some examples are higher tax revenue, lower reliance on state support, and higher likelihood of community service and civic engagement. Education as a private good, in

contrast, focuses on the individual benefits that an educated individual receives, such as higher income, more career opportunities, and economic security.

While many fall on one side or the other of this question, I believe the answer is that both the individual and society benefit when an individual receives a college degree; it is not an either/or issue. Public investment in students is warranted and benefits society. Likewise, individuals should make a personal investment as the achievement of the degree will benefit them personally as well. Then there is the sheer joy of learning new things and creating new knowledge – hard to quantify, but of high importance.

A long-standing public investment in degree attainment is the Pell Grant.

This year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the grant, named for its champion Senator Claiborne Pell. The Pell Grant is a need-based grant (based on family income) that allows students to take the funds to the institution of their choice. Since 1972, more than 80 million students have received a Pell Grant, benefiting those individual students and society.

The Wisconsin Grant is a state grant program that mirrors the Pell Grant.

Together, Pell and Wisconsin grants provide an efficient way to help low-income and first-generation students access higher education. In 2021, the average Pell Grant was $4,166 and the average Wisconsin Grant was $3,160. These funds, combined with other external and institutional grants, allow students to pursue an education at the institution of their choice.

I believe that public investment in higher education is vitally important, and I am grateful for the excellent educational opportunities that Wisconsin independent colleges provide without direct federal or state operating subsidies. I look forward to working to support WAICU member institutions and the students they serve.